Monday, June 07, 2010

Dogs

Sorry I'm so late today.  
Blogger was down and unavailable this morning.

Monday, June 7, 2010 -- Week of Proper 5, Year Two
The Pioneers of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, 1890

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 971)
Psalms 56, 57, [58] (morning)       64, 65 (evening)
Ecclesiastes 7:1-14
Galatians 4:12-20
Matthew 15:21-28

Today new commemoration, from Holy Women, Holy Men:
Pioneers of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil [1890] -- In 1890, Lucien Lee Kinsolving and James Watson Morris were sent as Episcopal missionaries to Brazil. The following year, they were joined by three other American missionaries. These five, along with six Brazilians, are now celebrated as the founders of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil. In 1899, Kinsolving became its first bishop, and it was declared a missionary district of The Episcopal Church in 1907. In 1965, it became an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The Brazilian calendar commemorates this feast from June 1 to June 7 each year. (June 7)
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The Teacher of Ecclesiastes offers some proverbial wisdom today.  His view is sober and dark.  Endings are generally better than beginnings, he says, for then we know the direction of things.  Since death is our true end, "the day of death [is better] than the day of birth.  It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; for this is the end of everyone, and the living will lay it to heart." 

In Medieval days, the salutation "Remember death!" was a common greeting, not unlike today's, "How are you doing?"  Seize the day, for it may be your last.  Be of good courage and integrity, for death awaits us all.  We share a common fate, so be good and kind to one another.  We feel these sentiments in the words of the Teacher.  "Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit.  Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.  Do not say, 'Why were the former days better than these?'  For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."

One of my favorite verses in all of holy writ falls in today's reading:  "Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?"

I have a picture of an English cleric in full vestment blessing the hounds for a fox hunt.  The priest doesn't see what the camera sees, that directly behind him one of the hunting dogs is hiking his leg and preparing to do relieve himself against the flowing vestments.  In a pasture with no trees, the full-length vestments look like a good place for doing business for a dog.  It's just the way God has created dogs.  The caption under the picture:  "Consdier the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?"

We have another dog story in Matthew's gospel, and this story may also be seen as a commentary on that fine verse from Ecclesiastes. 

Jesus has been in arguments with the authorities.  Jesus' disciples have not been following the holiness traditions of cleanliness.  There also seems to be a debate about kosher food, what is pure and what defiles.  Jesus calls his opponents hypocrites, quoting Isaiah saying, "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain to do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines."

Jesus leaves Israel and crosses over the border into Sidon.  A Canaanite woman approaches asking for healing for her daughter.  Everyone knows about the Canaanites, Israel's traditional enemy.  They are pagan, outsiders, and unclean.  Some observant Jews would avoid having such a person's shadow cross them for avoidance of defilement.  Jews and Canaanites have nothing to do with one another. 

Jesus has already stated that his ministry and purpose is to call Israel into a new relationship with their God.  When this Canaanite woman approaches him, he does not respond.  He has a mission, a boundary.  His work is for "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 

But this woman will not take "no" for an answer.  She kneels before him in supplication.  "Lord, help me." 

Jesus answers with a metaphor that would have been familiar to all who heard it.  "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."  There are places where Scripture refers to these foreign people as "pagan dogs."  That's the language Jesus would have heard growing up in Nazareth.  Who are those people over there?  They are Canaanite dogs; stay away from them.

But this dog will not be deterred.  "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 

This is not the language of dogs.  This is the language of wisdom; the language of a mother who loves her child.  Jesus responds immediately.  "Woman great it your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish."  In a moment, Jesus throws off the cultural inheritance of centuries.  From this moment on (it's even clearer in Mark's Gospel), Jesus performs the same miracles of healing and feeding for the foreigners as he does for his own people. 

Centuries of religious practice and Biblical interpretation had created a clear and straight orthodoxy of separation and cleanliness and holiness -- Israel is God's chosen people and specially blessed.  Clear boundaries; straight lines; comfortable certainties.  Surprise.  God's grace and presence also dwells with this Canaanite dog!  "Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?" 

The Episcopal Church has had a similar experience in our relationship with GLBT Christians.  We've recognized the grace and faithfulness of gay people and we've witnessed the love and fidelity present in their committed relationships.  Like Jesus, our church has responded to those we've been taught were unclean.  "Great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish," and we are working to treat our gay brothers and sisters the same as our straight neighbors. 

"Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?" 

Lowell

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Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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